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Opinion: Phuket poised for superyacht glory

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Andy Treadwell was the founder and CEO of Informa Plc’s Sports & Leisure Group (ISLG) and has been working with a number of the world’s most prestigious yachting and sporting industry events from 2007 until 2012. He is now based in Singapore, busy developing a portfolio of events specializing in the leisure marine sector, focusing on unlocking the huge potential for the yachting industry in Asia.

ISLG encompassed all the sports and yachting businesses in the company, including industry-leading events such as the Monaco Yacht Show, the Singapore Yacht Show, the Superyacht Cup Regattas, the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show, the Phuket International Boat Show, the International Sports Event Management Conference, Future Sponsorship and the World Yacht Racing Forum.

Here, he talks about the impact the growth of the superyacht industry in Phuket could have on the economy.

PHUKET: Phuket already plays a central role in the yachting industry in Southeast Asia, in the sense that it has a 10 or 20 year head start as the best-known destination and the main ‘hub’ for large yachts cruising the region. More importantly, with the industry in Asia now poised to develop rapidly, the island has a genuine opportunity to capitalize on this situation over the next few years. It has the popularity, geographical position and infrastructure to benefit most from the expected influx of superyachts coming east from the Mediterranean for the winter season.

Phuket is an important location for the yachting industry, if not essential, in that it is the first and the most obvious stop-off point for all the big boats coming to Asia from the Mediterranean via the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Maldives. There are plenty of superyacht marina berths, hotels, refit and repair facilities and so on – it is a world class cruising destination in its own right.

imageAndy Treadwell

Now there is a genuine desire among owners, captains and charter guests to find somewhere new and less crowded – and here, even though it’s twice as far away, they will find unspoiled and virtually limitless cruising grounds, beautiful beaches and diving spots, as well as great service from friendly, happy people.

The main thing that has been stopping them has been incompatible regulation and the inability to legally charter. It costs anything up to US$500,000 to bring a big boat all the way to Asia – more for the really big boats – so once it’s gotten here, it really needs to stay for the entire season. Owners probably only use the boat for three or four weeks, so it’s important that all the rest of the time the crew can be kept occupied, the boat active and some charter fees earned to offset the huge cost for the owners.

Apart from Singapore, which has somewhat less berths, there is really nowhere else, or not for a very long way.

I think Phuket will continue to develop. We have been met with a positive, welcoming and proactive response from the government here with regards to the opportunity to attract superyachts to Thailand, and we have been assured that the change in regulations we have been requesting will be put into action very soon.

We have principally focused on the need to allow foreign-flagged superyachts to come here and charter, which is currently not allowed – but only because the existing regulations were based on traditional merchant shipping rules, and have never been adapted for large pleasure yachts. Our proposal was simply to ‘customize’ the regulations here, similarly to those we have seen recently adopted in other yacht-friendly countries, such as Fiji, New Zealand and Spain.

This is not just reasonable, it makes sense – the market will be boosted, and all the local yacht businesses, including the smaller charter yachts and boats, will see huge benefits too. Not all of the influx of high-spending tourists will be able to afford or even want to rent a superyacht. Our next job is to bring them here, as the numbers are currently quite small while they cannot charter. But these yachts and their crew need to be able to stay a whole season, even the whole year, so that they can work hard and defray costs for their owners at the same time as bringing in revenue for Thailand.

The government was naturally keen to understand the economic benefits for tourism and maritime businesses, but also to ensure that if big yachts were to be made welcome in large numbers, they would be operated in an environmentally-friendly way, and would comply with both Thai and international safety and security standards. We helped document the positive evidence on all these dimensions – and, as I say, we have been able to discuss all of these concerns in a positive and proactive way.

Phuket should be catering to both superyachts and smaller charter yachts. However, the bigger yachts will have the most impact on the economy – never mind the bunkering services, the refit and repair, the hotels and restaurants and so on. Phuket also has a major advantage in that there will soon be over 100 berths for superyachts and megayachts here – unique in the whole region – so the opportunity is enormous and should be seized.

At the same time, we are engaging, through our Singapore Yacht Show and our wider marketing efforts with, an ever-growing community of lifestyle-hungry people from all over Asia, who might currently be uninitiated, but are all new potential charterers – and, one day, new yacht owners. Everybody loves coming to Thailand, and this industry will bring exactly the kind of high-end, high-spending tourism that Phuket needs.

 

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